Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Tag Archives: Perspective

Dancing In The Rain

A good friend of mine, who I recently realized was in fact one of those great friends, sent me this sentiment last night:

Good stuff and very true!

Perfectly Average

I had a conversation earlier this evening with a good friend of mine.  She keeps me on my feat with her whit and honesty.  She’s also pretty good and making sure I never get a big head.  Tonight she reminded me that I’m average.  I’m 5’9″ and 168 lbs.  Both average specs.  My GPA and SAT scores were both average.  She was quick to explain that I’m also average looking (geez, thanks).  I kept waiting for the “but,” but it never came.  Her pep talk, if you could call it that, was specifically tailored to reminding me that I’m average.

Well, she’s right.  I’m average across the board.  That’s ok.  I’m perfectly average and that’s worked a-o-k for the last 31 years.  One way to look at it, is that I’m not below average.  It’s like the old saying goes, to the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world…even if you’re average.

Damaged Goods

I was working for a dot com startup in Chicago in 2001, the first time I heard the phrase, “damaged goods.” Like many companies in that era we had gone from 1 person to 100 to 400 to 150 to 600 and eventually we locked the doors to the office so we could mail people their last paychecks. Ahh the good old days, right?  Well, we had just undergone a massive layoff that I was sorta part of (long story) and I was having a beer with Anthony Isla.  I was senior to Anthony, but he was definitely more experienced.  He said to me, well at least in this business climate we won’t be considered damaged goods.  I was confused, asked him to explain and he did.  In short, there’s only so many times that you can get laid off before future employers start wondering if it’s not the situations, but you who are the problem.

Personal and dating relationships are no different.  Those of us who are divorced start off with a major disadvantage in the dating game because there’s an inherent perception that we are damaged goods.  After all if we were poor at being married the first time, why would it be different the second time.  I have scene this up close and personal.  It’s shocking how quickly your confidence is destroyed after you get the “look.” Trust me, when you get the look, you never forget.  It stings.  Of course, the look pales in comparison to the things people say.  Believe me, they aren’t shy about it.

Professionally, I’ve never felt like damaged goods.  I survived two layoffs and became stronger after each of them.  I remember a conversation I had with Cheryl, after the second one. In pretty plain language she made it clear it was their loss, I was amazing and I had still had much more to give.  Well, she was right. After both layoffs it took me less than 3 weeks to get new positions. I wasn’t damaged goods. I simply had a poor partner who didn’t realize my potential.  These days, I interview a lot of folks.  The ones who have bounced around wear the face of someone who believes they are damaged goods.  It’s a horrible feeling and I always try to make it clear that I’m concerned with what they can do for my team, our agency and our clients.  I do my best to not see them as damaged goods.

Personally, it’s been tougher.  The other day I was drifting into damaged goods land.  In a conversation with a new friend, I stated, “well, it’s tough, because I’m damaged goods.”. Like a good friend, she said “you are not damaged goods” and then offered to “explain” that with words and actions to whomever had made me feel that way.  Talk about a hell of a friend.  It’s ironic that it took someone I barely knew to set me straight.  But, I guess there are simply people out there with good hearts who can see past out battle scars.  Her Facebook page has these two great quotes:

1. “Don’t cry because its over smile because it happened”
2. “A Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no ones definition of your life; define yourself….”

Smart stuff. It applies to what we do professionally and personally.  Take each experience, even the negative ones, and look for the good.  There’s no sense in lying to yourself and completely bad mouthing your former company, boss or boyfriend.  It makes you seem petty, immature and unable to see the big picture.  At the same time, don’t let someone else make you feel less than who you really are.  I know this sounds Tony Robbins like, but it’s a really important concept.  Don’t be defined by being laid off, fired, divorced, dumped, etc.  Those situations, even when cumulated, are still small slivers that only tell a small part of the story of YOU!

I am not damaged goods. Neither are you.

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can Lose!

In the TV drama that originated from the movie of the same name, Friday Night Lights, the rallying cry for the team is “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose.”  Coach Taylor impresses this statement and idea on to his team every game, before they take the field.  The statement is certainly more that just words…there’s meaning behind it.  At a simple level, one could argue, that he’s getting at the idea of winning not being the most important thing.  If you will, simply taking the field, knowing you’ve offered your very best makes you a winner.  I can completely understand that point of view.  It makes you feel good on the inside.  We connect with it because the idea of the indomitable human spirit is inspiring and worth paying attention to.

The rub of course is that this is television; good television, but still television.  This isn’t real life.  In real life, we want to believe that simply having Clear Eyes and Full Hearts allows us to have a moral victory and ideally something more.  From recent real experience, I can tell you that’s not the case.  Actually, it’s heartbreaking to know you gave your best, and yet you still lost.  It’s humbling and certainly makes you question if giving your all was worth it.  After all, you could have just as easily failed by giving 50%.

In the movies, we root for the underdog.  We cheered Rocky when he was fighting Apollo Creed.  We wished Diane Court would come to her senses in Say Anything and give love a chance with John Cusack’s character LLoyd Dobler.  We felt empty on the inside when Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon split-up in Fever Pitch.  We want the underdog to win.  It gives us hope to know that yes, the small can triumph over the big, the week can best the mighty and real effort is a catalyst to achieving your goals.  Without movies, without stories, without real world exceptions, we wouldn’t believe – and without that belief our lives would lose a certain amount of meaning.

I was engaged once for 3 months.  Not 4, not 3 months and two weeks; no, 3 months to the day (believe me, the irony sticks with me).  Despite effort, despite the grand gestures and the little things, despite wanting, wishing and hoping, despite the capitulations and compromises…it didn’t last.  The mountains were tall and rocky too climb.  Blood was thicker than water.  The differences were valued more than the similarities.  Love was not enough.  In the movies, nothing would have kept us apart.  In the movies, there would have been a realization that things that brought us together were worth fighting for.

But, real life isn’t the movies.

In reality, in this world, in this life, the sad fact is that too often Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can Lose is the rule, not the exception.  Sorry, Coach Taylor, I hate to disagree with you, but the truth is the truth.


I’ve done a lot of silly things in my time.  I make mistakes.  I think you learn from those mistakes.  But, I don’t think I’ve ever been embarrassed by my mistakes.  This is a mindset I try to instill on John and Cora.  Making mistakes is part of growing up.  And yes, even when you’re grown up you can make mistakes.  Sometimes the mistakes are small or foolish and we feel silly.  That’s ok.  Sometimes the mistakes are big.  And it’s those mistakes that we worry about.  People tend to feel embarrassed by their mistakes.  I don’t.  It’s just part of life.  I’m going to make more mistakes.  Some of them are going to be huge.  But, I won’t be embarrassed by them.

Love Or Money

The other night I couldn’t sleep. So i started flipping through the channels and landed on a movie that’s always perplexed me: Indecent Proposal. If you read any review or synopsis of the movie, the plot line is essentially love vs. money. We love to think that love conquers money. We love to believe that passion and emotion trump cold hard cash. We believe it, because it’s a nice sentiment.

The Beatles of course challenged that idea with the song titled “Money,” in which they wrote “The best things in life are free. But you can keep ’em for the birds and bees. Now give me money, (that’s what I want) that’s what I want.” Money is a seductive and powerful influencer. It makes people do silly things.

In the movie Indecent Proposal a man is offered $1,000,000 for one night with his wife by a billionaire. Now let me be clear, one night does not equal sex. It simply means one night. I’ll spare you all the details of the movie, but I do want to hit on the key portions of the story that have always left me perplexed:

1. They agree to offer
2. The man making the proposal makes it clear to the wife that nothing will happen that she doesn’t want to happen
3. She ends up sleeping with him
4. The married couple divorce because the husband can’t get past the fact his wife slept with another man
5. The wife ends up dating the guy who made the proposal
6. They break up because the guy who made the proposal realizes, “she never would have looked at me like she did him”
7. The husband and wife get back together because the husband realizes “…that the things that people in love do to each other, they remember. And if they stay together, it’s not because they forget. It’s because they forgive.”

Ok here is why I’m perplexed…we love to take sides in movies. We love to choose person A over B. A good movie sucks you in, creates the emotional connection, and makes your brain hurt because the choices are difficult. Publications like The New York Times reviewed this movie when it came out over a decade ago. Their reviews depicted the difficulty in choosing sides between the husband and the wife. Was the husband to blame because he agreed to let his wife spend the night with the billionaire? Was the woman to blame for agreeing to spend the night and then subsequently sleeping with the billionaire? I kid you not, pundits, reviewers and critics have debated this topic.

So why am I perplexed? Because I see this as really simple. The wife is to blame. Not only did she agree to spend the night, but she made the choice to sleep with the billionaire. She did both of these with her own free will. I wont even touch the whole decision to then divorce her husband (she filed) and date the billionaire. The husband was a saint for somehow staying in love with her, fighting for her after he lost her and then of course taking her back.

She chose money twice over love…

I don’t get it? Why is it so simple for me? What am I missing? Help me out.

The Line At The Door Is Always Long

I’ve had some really poor managers in my career. In roughly 14 years I’ve had 22 different managers. It’s astonishing to me that only 4 of them are what I’d term as great. One of those bosses was Kevin Doohan. I met Kevin when I was working at ConAgra Foods. He was the first manager I had who could bring real world credibility in the interactive space and still be savvy enough to navigate the politics of corporate culture. I usually ended up with a manager who had one of the other, not both. I learned a lot from Kevin. My 3 years working for Kevin accelerated my business management, critical thinking and strategic skill development.

Kevin was always teaching. Every conversation and interaction was a chance for him to share his knowledge. I didn’t necessarily always agree with everything Kevin preached, but that’s what made us successful as a team. There’s two things that always stick with me:

  1. The line at the door is always long. This was Kevin’s perspective, initially on agencies, and eventually on personnel. When agency partners would complain, raise a stink and come across as holier than thou, Kevin would remind them that they aren’t obligated to work with ConAgra Foods. But, they should know, the line of agencies at the door who wanted to work with ConAgra Foods was pretty damn long. I say, eventually personnel, because even when I resigned, Kevin had the same perspective. While he was disappointed in my decision, he wasn’t going to beg me to stay because there was a line of people who could take my job.  In short, you’re replaceable and don’t think you aren’t, because I have 100s of companies and people who want you have.
  2. With a similar subtext, Kevin told me the story of Gamma One, one of the first places he worked at. I don’t remember the time frame, if he worked there before college, during college or right after, but either way, it was early in his career. There was a guy working at the company who felt he was being underpaid and wasn’t getting the “respect” he believed he deserved. They key, by the way, is DESERVED…notice he didn’t feel he had EARNED it. Anyhow, eventually things came to a head, this guy had interviewed for a job at another company and informed his boss he had a GREAT offer and was ready to walk. This guy’s expectation was that his boss would of course match, if not beat the offer on the table, because his position was too valuable to lose. Instead, his boss stated something to the effect of, “Congratulations. That’s great. Gamma One was here before you and it’ll be here after you.” True to form, more than 15 years later, Gamma One is still HERE. In short, you’re not as valuable as you think you are and if you walk in to my office and treat things like a hostage negotiation, you’re going to lose, because I don’t negotiate with terrorists.

I’ve applied a lot of that thinking to the positions I took after ConAgra Foods. I manage my team and my partners with the same philosophy. Heck, I’ve even applied it to friendships and relationships – I won’t chase after people. If you want to leave a relationship, if you want to quit, if you deliver the ultimatums, I’ll let you walk…because the line at the door is long.

But, I’m not silly, myopic or hypocritical. I also know that the same holds true to my own career. If I quit my job at MARC USA tomorrow or were let go, the simple truth is that there’s 100s of people ready to take my job and fill the void. Of course, we always believe our leaving will matter more than it does.  We say things like, “well, when client X here’s what happens, you’ll be kicking yourself in the ass.” Inherently, our pride gets in the way and of course we think, “well they’re screwed now” or “I’ve got leverage, because I have history” – or something to that effect. But, pride is foolish.

We always think we’re more valuable than we are.  But, the truth is we’re all replaceable, because the line at the door is always long.

The Hypocrisy Of Traditions

Traditions are a funny thing.  Some are easy to let go.  Others, we hold on to with a grip reminiscent of someone holding on to the side of a cliff…fearful that they could fall if for even a second they release that grip.  We grow up with traditions.  Some of us open presents on Christmas morning because that’s what we did as children.  Some of us go to church on Sundays, because it’s what we did with our parents.  Yes, our traditions stick with us.

I was having a discussion this weekend with some friends about funeral traditions. The topic was relevant because my grandmother had just passed away; she was 92. Anyhow the conversation morphed from just funerals traditions to traditions in general. By the end of the night it was clear that we’ve become cherry pickers when it comes to traditions. As a society and a people, we’ve elected to arbitrarily choose which traditions we want to maintain, enforce apply and expect of one another. If you will, we’ve elected to live in the gray and avoid black and white.

For example, take weddings, or rather the concept of marriage.  Today, we fret over the size, shape and of course brand of diamond ring we buy.  Some how, the purchasing of a diamond for a woman has become a modern day tradition.  I put emphasis on the idea of modern day, because ironically, the original wedding ring tradition was that a man provided a simple metal band.  As wikipedia tells us:

In older times, the wedding rings were not only a sign of love, but were also linked to the bestowal of ‘earnest money’. According to the prayer book of Edward VI: after the words ‘with this ring I thee wed’ follow the words ‘This gold and silver I give thee’, at which point the groom was supposed to hand a leather purse filled with gold and silver coins to the bride.

Historically, the wedding ring was rather connected to the exchange of valuables at the moment of the wedding rather than a symbol of eternal love and devotion. It is a relic of the times when marriage was a contract between families, not individual lovers. Both families were then eager to ensure the economical safety of the young couple. Sometimes it went as far as being a conditional exchange as this old (and today outdated) German formula shows: ‘I give you this ring as a sign of the marriage which has been promised between us, provided your father gives with you a marriage portion of 1000 Reichsthalers’.

If you will, back in the day (roughly 1215 during the medieval era), a ring was provided as a means for initiating the contract between two people…where that contract would provide a dowry (money, goods, or estate that a woman brings to her husband in marriage) to the man. So, basically the bride gets a ring, the parents no longer have to support their child and the groom gets a gift (financial and/or other). Talk about a 3-way trade!

Now of course today, we still exchange rings, albeit a much more expensive one, but we lose the dowry. Could you imagine a situation where someone proposed without a ring…or with simply a gold/silver band? For starters, the man would be considered cheap and the woman would obviously feel embarrassed.  It could never happen, because rings today are status symbols.  The larger the ring, the more he cares…the more money he makes…the more he loves you…the luckier she is….etc.

We accept that the times have changed from the medieval days and that there’s a new socially accepted tradition for getting engaged, but society at large would never tolerate the idea of a dowry (yes, I know in some cultures dowries are still exchanged). To that, I say hypocrisy.  By accepting so much grey, we’ve lost the idea of a tradition.  Instead, we’ve cobbled together something we call tradition, but in truth, resembles a sloppily stitched patchwork quilt.

Perhaps, that patchwork quilt is who we are as a society.  After all, we are the country known as a melting pot.  The institute of marriage is just one of many examples of the hypocrisy of traditions.  But, it’s one we can all understand and relate to; that’s why I picked it for this post.  Every day, we blur the lines and manufacture new traditions by eliminating the traditions of the past that we no longer find relevant.  In doing so, are we negating the relevancy of those new traditions?  Well, seeing as a diamond is forever has been a slogan since 1947, perhaps not.

The American Dream

I saw this story posted on the wall at my local Jimmy Johns.  I’d heard it before and loved the sentiment.  It also seemed to fit with the values Jimmy Johns has.  They don’t over charge.  They don’t gauge.  They charge a fair price for a solid sub.  I dig.

An American businessman was standing at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.

“How long it took you to catch them?” The American asked.

“Only a little while.” The Mexican replied.

“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” The American then asked.

“I have enough to support my family’s immediate needs.” The Mexican said.

“But,” The American then asked, “What do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life, senor.”

The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds you buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats.”

“Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own can factory. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But senor, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”

“But what then, senor?”

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO (Initial Public Offering) and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”

“Millions, senor? Then what?”

The American said slowly, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos…”